Christie and others celebrate a Camden project, but no one brings up the 'A' word

Governor Christ Christie speaks at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the for the Rutgers-Rowan Health Sciences Building that will be located at the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd and Broadway in Camden, New Jersey.

Gov. Christie and other officials who spoke at the groundbreaking for a key piece of Camden’s downtown development had many celebratory words for the city Thursday, but no one uttered the “A” word — for Amazon, that is.

The governor earlier this week spurned Camden’s upstart bid for the online retailing giant’s second-headquarters project in favor of one being submitted by Newark. Thursday was the deadline for bids.

The essentially symbolic move nonetheless was a bit of a blow to Camden, which by all accounts has done rather well during the Christie administration. Camden County already had submitted the 167-page Amazon proposal, along with a dozen or so pages of testimonials and other appendices, on the city’s behalf.

Camera icon JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
New Jersey Governor Christ Christie and other dignitaries participate in a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Rutgers-Rowan Health Sciences Building.

“This groundbreaking today is another milestone,” the governor told the crowd of several hundred under a tent and in a block-long patch of cleared ground at Broadway and Martin Luther King Boulevard where a Joint Health Sciences Center is to rise.

“Camden is a great American success story.”

Other speakers at the jubilant event, including Mayor Dana L. Redd (who thanked Christie “for believing in the possibilities of this city”) and U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, observed similar political etiquette.

Amid all the literal and figurative sunshine, those on the dais evidently did not wish to rain on the city’s parade. Or on what’s likely one of Christie’s final visits to the city as governor. And the governor left immediately after his gracious, bipartisan speech without taking questions.

The deadline to apply for the $5 billion, 50,000 job-generating Amazon crown was Thursday. Perhaps 100 municipalities or metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada, including  Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Chester, have submitted bids, or were expected to. Amazon says it will announce the winner in 2018.

Speaking to reporters prior to the festivities, Redd — who has been an important ally for Christie, and vice versa — said she was “not going to say anything negative” about the governor. She also said the city “is undeterred” and would be “lobbying aggressively” on behalf of its bid.

The public remarks Thursday were all about the Joint Health Sciences Center, a $70 million, 95,000-square-foot, first-in-the-state collaboration involving three colleges and two medical schools in South Jersey. It will rise on what had been a bedraggled but viable retail block — one of the last in downtown Camden.

Across the street from the construction site, stores on the east side of Broadway’s 200 block are shuttered in expectation of more development to come.

The Health Sciences Complex, dramatic renderings of which were displayed on digital video, will enable students from different institutions and disciplines to learn and work collaboratively. It will include classrooms, laboratories, simulation facilities  — and a rooftop terrace.

The center also will serve to further bridge the gap between the Cooper Street-centric campuses of Rutgers and Rowan Universities and Camden County College, and the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and adjacent Cooper University Health campus a few blocks south. The goal is to create an “eds and meds” corridor downtown.

“This really is a wonderful day,” said an ebullient Jack Collins, the former New Jersey Assembly speaker and longtime Gloucester County Republican leader who heads the Rowan/Rutgers Board of Governors. The board was created through a 2012 legislative compromise brokered after Trenton’s politically untenable attempt to have Rowan virtually absorb Rutgers.

In addition to housing collaborative medical-education programs already underway among city institutions, including Camden high schools, the health sciences center will include offices for the joint board.

During his public remarks, Christie said Camden’s mayor had long greeted him with “welcome home” on his visits to the city.

“Camden will always be his second home,” Redd told the crowd.

And who knows?

Perhaps a second home to Amazon as well.